I was told I'd get the farm but there's no will - what can I do?

When somebody dies without making a will, they die intestate. However, there are a few options to potentially rectify this matter.
I was told I'd get the farm but there's no will - what can I do?

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Dear Stephen,

I am in my thirties and have been living and working on my father’s first cousin, John’s farm since I left school. 

The farm is down the road from my parent’s house and they always looked after John as he lived on his own.

I finished school after my Leaving Cert and I was told by my father’s cousin and by my parents that I will inherit the farm when my father’s cousin passed away.

My father’s cousin passed away last year but failed to make a will before he died. My father’s cousin has one sibling a brother who lives in the UK and my understanding is that he potentially now will inherit the lands as my father’s cousin did not make a will.

I also carry out some contracting work but I did work on my father’s cousin’s farm for many years on the basis that my understanding is that I was going to be given the farm and he said to me on numerous occasions that this was his intention.

What are my legal options here?

Dear Reader,

I am sorry to hear about the situation that you have found yourself in. However, you have options here to potentially rectify this matter. When somebody dies without making a will, they die intestate.

When this happens the rules of intestacy apply, and in this scenario, your father’s cousin’s son would be potentially legally entitled to his estate. His Estate would consist of any assets he owns after deducting any liabilities. It is likely that this would include the farm and the lands.

There is a legal doctrine known as the doctrine of estoppel, which you could potentially rely upon here. This is known as proprietary estoppel.

There are a number of remedies that would arise from this including a court order that the lands have to be transferred to you or that you are to receive damages in respect of the works that you carried out on the farm over the years.

I note that you finished school after Leaving Cert and you predominantly worked for your father’s cousin but you also carried out some contracting work.

There are three tiers typically to an Estoppel case, which are as follows:

  • The first tier that needs to be met is that there has to be a representation from the owner of the lands that the lands were to be given to you which appears to be the case here.
  • You need to show you relied on that representation.
  • You have to show that you act acted to your detriment or suffered detriment by relying on that representation. Typically, to show a court that you have acted to your detriment, you will have to set out the extent of the work that you carried out and that also you may have potentially lost other opportunities by continuing to work on the farm.

Potential outcomes

There are a number of cases in respect of the doctrine of estoppel and it will largely come down to the evidence presented before a judge. There are other options outside of litigation, including the parties entering into mediation to ascertain whether an agreement can be reached. 

The most typical outcome of this would be that the lands or some of the lands are transferred to you or, alternatively, you are paid money or damages in lieu of you not getting the lands, which may entail that some of the lands would have to be sold.

It is important to note that the statute of limitations in respect of estoppel matters is two years from the date of the death and accordingly it is advisable that you engage a solicitor as soon as possible with a view to taking initial steps.

Stephen Coppinger is a solicitor practising in Walsh & Partners Solicitors, 17 South Mall, Cork, and 88 Main Street, Midleton, Co Cork. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate, and family law.

While every effort is taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, Walsh & Partners does not accept responsibility for errors or omissions howsoever arising. Readers should seek legal advice in relation to their particular circumstances at the earliest opportunity.

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